Thursday, October 12, 2006

North Korea's 'China Policy': Less Baffling

North Korean Throws Rock at China
Is that a Swoosh on his cap?
Photo Borrowed From BBC News

The Marmot posted a link to a CNN report, "NK army 'wants early nuclear test'" (CNN World, North Korea: Nuclear Tension, October 8, 2006), that might clarify a point that has been baffling me ever since Monday, namely, why North Korea chose to embarrass its patron China:

U.S. envoy John Bolton said last week that while Britain, France and Japan had made clear [that] a strong statement was needed to warn Pyongyang against testing, he was not certain "what North Korea's protectors on the (U.N. Security) Council are going to do".

In response, Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya said: "I'm not sure which country he is referring to, but I think that for bad behavior in this world no one is going to protect them."

Wang's remark riled North Korean generals who bristled at the notion of needing China's protection and urged their leader, Kim Jong-il, to bring the test date forward, said the source who requested anonymity.

"North Korea is especially unhappy with China," the source told Reuters after speaking with senior North Korean officials.

"This is chauvinism. North Korea does not need Chinese protection. North Korea is no longer a dependency," the source cited the North Koreans as saying.

Well, there you have it -- North Korean nationalism, directed against China, spurred the military to "urge" an earlier test.

Hmmm ... raises the question as to who's calling the shots up there, Kim Jong-il or the military. And note that this CNN report pre-dated the nuclear test, which gives it some credibility because it was a prediction rather than an explanation.

Anyway, as I had mused on this blog, the test might be directed as much against China as against the U.S., Japan, or South Korea.

A colleague of mine in Korea University's Department of Philosophy suggested to me yesterday that while China wouldn't do anything to destabilize North Korea, they'd happily do something to get rid of the North's Kim dynasty and put someone more amenable to Chinese pressure in charge.

I think that he's right, but if the CNN report is accurate, then the North's military is just as much driven by nationalism as Kim Jong-il himself and perhaps even more determinedly unwilling to kowtow to China.

According to Joseph Kahn, "China, angered, takes harder line with North" (International Herald Tribune: Asia-Pacific, October 10, 2006), China isn't very happy about this attitude and the nuclear test, which it labeled "hanran" (悍然):

China's punctilious Foreign Ministry reserves the word hanran, which translates as brazen or flagrant, for serious affronts to the nation's dignity by countries that have historically been rivals or enemies.


North Korea, a longstanding ideological ally, has had increasingly testy relations with China in recent years. But it was not until Monday, moments after North Korea apparently exploded a nuclear device, that China accused it of a "brazen" violation of its international commitments.


"Hanran" has been applied to North Korea for the first time. But Japan and the United States, which favor the sharpest response to the North Korean test, have been "hanran" for years.
Sounds pretty serious ... but as the North Koreans might hanranly challenge: "Whaddaya gonna do about it?"


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